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A DX Looks at Colombia

By Don Moore

A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in the May, 1991 issue of The Journal of the North American Shortwave Association in the Latin Destinations column.


Hola amigos! Welcome again to Latin Destinations!

Focus on Colombia

The main focus this month will be one of South America's more easily heard DX countries - Colombia. A number of factors make Colombia distinct from the other Latin American countries. First, it is the only country in South America to have extensive seacoasts on the both the Atlantic and Pacific. Secondly, Colombia has a strong democratic tradition. Except for a four year period of Cold War inspired military dictatorship in the 1950s, Colombia has had elected democratic governments for over 100 years. This is despite three major periods of civil disturbances, including the current one. Finally, Colombia has a strong economy.

For years, Colombia had a typical one crop Third World economy, based on coffee. Years ago however, Colombia learned the folly of depending on one crop. Today, other major exports include seafood, bananas, leather products, cut flowers, emeralds, and gold. Oil and coal are also becoming increasingly important. Economic diversification has been the key to what is truely an economic miracle, compared to the rest of Latin America. Colombia was the only Latin American country without at least one year of negative growth in the 1980s, and is the only major Latin American country without a debt crisis. Economic growth for 1991 is predicted to be a healthy 3.5%.

For the uninformed, a likely initial reaction to Colombia's economic boom is something like "They should be doing well, selling all those drugs." Clearly, in looking at Colombia, we have to examine the drug problem. In reality, illegal drugs have very little impact on Colombia's economy. Most estimates place the worth of Colombia's illegal drug exports at about five percent of the value of Colombia's legal exports. Most of that money gets channeled into the overseas bank accounts of a few major drug kingpins. Furthermore, any benefits to the country from the drug trade are far outweighed by drug terrrorism.

I have not yet had the opportunity to travel to Colombia, but through my job at Ferris State University, I have gotten to know several dozen Colombians. Because we have a connection with a college recruiter in Colombia, our English as a Second Language program gets a lot of Colombian students. These young people come from hard-working middle class families. They are very proud of their country, and very concerned about its future. Many of them know people that have been murdered or kidnapped by the drug lords. Sometimes a family business or a parent's place of work has been bombed. The students I've known are representative of the vast majority of law-abiding Colombians, but sadly, they frequently run into prejudice from people that assume all Colombians must be drug dealers.

DXing Colombia

Because of Colombia's position at the northern end of South America, and because its radio stations are generally well equipped and well maintained, Colombia is one of the easiest Latin American countries to hear in North America. Colombian stations are common in the 60 and, to a lesser extent, 49 meter bands nightly from about 0000-0500 and every morning from around 0900-1100. In radio, too, Colombia is distinct from the other Latin American countries. Here, more than any where else, the broadcasting scene is dominated by large networks. To DX Colombia, you must know who these networks are. Sometimes, the only IDs heard will be a network ID, such as TODELAR or Super Radio. See the WRTH for a precise breakdown of who belongs to which network.

The largest network is the Cadena Radial Colombiana, better known as CARACOL (which, oddly enough, means snail). CARACOL controls a huge network of AM and FM stations throughout the country, including some of the most powerful transmitters in South America. Several of their stations broadcast over shortwave. Years ago, each station had its own distinctive programming and only joined the network for news and special events. Gradually, however, there has been a move towards the main stations relaying CARACOL Bogota all day long. The SW frequencies for CARACOL are 5075, 6075, and 6150. The first two are from Bogota, while the last one, which used to be from Neiva, has reportedly been moved to Bandela, Cundinamarca. Two additional frequencies, 4755 from Bogota and 4945 from Neiva, are inactive.

Just east of Bogota, where the Andes Mountains and the Amazon lowlands meet, is the provincial capital of Villavicencio, which must be considered the SW capital of Colombia. Villavicencio is home to five shortwave stations, one of the heaviest concentrations in the world. The easiest one to hear is La Voz del Llano, affiliated with the Super Radio network, on 6117. It's best heard in the morning, but is sometimes on all night. The next easiest station, Ondas del Meta, is on 4885 and can often be heard mornings and evenings, although usually not so well. Farther up the band is La Voz de los Centauros on 5954v. This is a CARACOL station, and may have switched over to relaying CARACOL Bogota, so there may no longer be local IDs. Nearby is a Roman Catholic station, Radio Macarena, on 5975. Both stations are frequently heard in the morning. Finally, there's sporadically-active and hard-to-hear Radio Cinco on 5040. An ID is a must here, as Ecuador's La Voz del Upano usually dominates the frequency.

Two other Colombian radio towns of importance are Florencia and Arauca. Like Villavicencio, these cities lie on the edge of the Amazon region. Florencia is home to Ondas del Orteguaza, 4975, and La Voz de la Selva, 6170v, each often heard in the morning. A third Florencia station, Armonias del Caqueta on 4915, has been inactive recently. Arauca is home to CARACOL station La Voz del Cinaruco. On 4865, it is the strongest Colombian signal on 60 meters. The Arauca radio scene is completed by La Voz del Rio Arauca on 4895 and sporadically active Meridiano 70 on 4925. Colombia's remaining SW outlets are, for the most part, irregular and difficult to hear. Two, however, should be mentioned. From Cucuta, Radio Nueva Vida on 5567v is an unlicensed Evangelical station. Apparently, they believe God pardons them for breaking rules on licensing and out-of-band broadcasting! Finally, Colombia does have a bonafide international broadcasting station, although few gringos know about it because it's just as irregular as some of the country's commercial SW outlets and frequently changes frequency. If you hear a Spanish speaking station with classical music on 16 meters, stick around for an ID - it might be them!

For QSL hounds, Colombian stations are average verifiers for Latin America. CARACOL, La Voz del Cinaruco, and Radio Nueva Vida are probably the best verifiers. In writing, just be sure to spell Colombia with an "o", not a "u", as in British Columbia or District of Columbia. The Colombianos I've known get riled at dumb gringos that can't learn to spell their country's name right!

What about the future for SW in Colombia? As in most of the rest of Latin America, the past twenty years have seen a marked decrease in the number of SW stations in Colombia. Colombia has such a highly developed system of AM/FM broadcasting, that there is little need for SW in most of the country. However, there is apparently a law that requires all networks maintain a SW frequency for Colombians overseas. All the networks do, in fact, have several SW frequencies; they're just usually inactive! In the Amazon region, shortwave should continue to play an important role in broadcasting, as it does now. In fact, if some sort of peace accord is reached with Colombia's drug lords and leftwing guerillas, the eastern Amazon region will be opened up for settlement. Quick growth could lead to jungle boom towns, which invariably have SW broadcasting.

Looks like this is it for another column. Don't let the summer static stop you - go hunting the bands for Colombianas! Hasta luego!

1996 Addendum: Well, first, I no longer work at Ferris State University but at Teikyo Marycrest University. As to DXing Colombia, easily-heard stations currently active La Voz del Arauca on 4985 from the city of Arauca, Radio Nacional from Bogota on 4955, CARACOL Colombia from Bogota on 5075, and La Voz del Llano on 6116 variable from Villavicencio. As I write this, CARACOL has just come back on after a few weeks off the air, most likely for transmitter work. CARACOL is one of the largest and most prestigious radio networks in Latin America and I doubt they have any plans to turn off the shortwave which serves Colombians abroad. A new Colombian is Ecos del Orinoco on 4905 from Puerto Carreno in northeastern Colombia. It's being well heard, but as it is new one can't predict its future very well!

As all these stations operate in the lower shortwave frequencies, they can only be heard when there is a darkness or near darkness path. Hence in North America the only times to hear Colombia on shortwave are in the evening until the stations go off for the night (usually at 0500 UTC or midnight Colombian time). They can be heard again in the morning from station sign-on (usually 1000 UTC, 5 a.m. Colombian time, although some are plus or minus an hour). In the morning stations are audible until they fade out with the dawn. Obviously, there is a better opportunity to hear Colombia on shortwave in the winter months when it gets darker earlier in the day and stays dark later in the morning. CARACOL on 5075, La Voz del Llano on 6116, and La Voz del Cinaruco on 4865 sometimes stay on all night.


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Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

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